Focus on the Family

Time for a Good Read

by Andrea Vinley Jewell

In today’s fast-paced world, reading often rides in the backseat of the entertainment car. While advances in technology have made for impressive entertainment choices, it's important to remember that reading is the only entertainment medium that’s also an essential life skill.

Among other benefits, reading boosts intelligence, provides competence in school and for future jobs, and inspires the imagination like no digital medium can.

When I was in elementary school, my mom or dad took us to the library every two weeks. My sisters and I would plop ourselves down on the floor of the children’s book room and skim the titles — our heads tilted at 90 degrees. The checkout limit was a dozen books, which never seemed like enough. My parents, both avid readers, instilled in us a love for reading.

Without too much effort, you can teach your children to read and love it, keeping in mind a few simple tips and cautions. Try introducing your child or teen to some classic books and magazines you may have read in your younger years. You may even find some unexpected discoveries along the reading journey.

Benefits of Reading

Avid reading has life-long benefits.

by Andrea Vinley Jewell

"When you open a book for your child and share it in reading, you're giving shape and dimension to the routine events of everyday life, making it possible for your child to discover the meaning of childhood.

"Books can make a favorite toy as full of life as Winnie-the-Pooh, turn a backyard into Wonderland, or a porch in Captain Hook's pirate ship. Books place your child at the center of the world of imagination." — Regina Higgins, Magic Kingdoms

Research shows that avid readers:

And with the explosion of information in the workplace, only avid readers can stay well informed with relative ease.

Teaching Your Children to Read

These reading guidelines can help you know what's appropriate for different stages of your children's development.

by Andrea Vinley Jewell

Start now. No matter the age of your children, you can start teaching them to appreciate reading and to want to learn to read for themselves. Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, offers the following guidelines to help parents know what’s appropriate for different stages of development:

  1. At four months of age, a child is able to listen and observe.
  2. When reading, your arms should encircle the child in such a way as to suggest support and bonding, but not imprisonment.
  3. By six months, the child is more interested in grabbing a book to chew or suck on rather than listening. Bypass the problem by giving him a teething toy or other distraction.
  4. At 8 months, he may prefer turning pages to steady listening. Allow him to explore this activity, but don’t let him take the book away from you.
  5. At 12 months, the child’s involvement grows to turning pages for you, pointing to objects you name on the page, even making noises for animals on cue.
  6. By 15 months and the onset of walking, his restlessness blossoms fully, and your reading times must be chosen so as not to frustrate his immediate interests.
  7. By 2 years old children are interested in everything and need names for those things. So plan to spend more time on each page naming items in pictures.
  8. Once a child is calm in the presence of books and more inclined to listen than to rip, introduce interactive books, like Pat the Bunny or I’m a Little Mouse.
  9. Familiarity is important in developing a lasting relationship with books, so the toddler years are a good time to purchase books to read and reread.

With 3- and 4-year-olds, you can start them reading for themselves by teaching initial sounds of letters. Alphabet books, magnetic letters on the fridge and drawing letters on paper can be fun and instructional. "The trick in this is to never quiz your child. Teach letters casually," author Mary Leonhardt writes. Another idea is to write words on index cards and tape them to the things they name, such as a chair or piano.

Simple Tips on Reading

You can inspire a love for reading in your children.

by Andrea Vinley Jewell

Given all the benefits of reading, it's no wonder parents want to instill a love for reading in their children. Mary Leonhardt, author of Keeping Children Reading and Parents Who Love Reading, Children Who Don’t offers these simple tips.

Cautions for Parents

Take heed of these cautionary words when trying to develop your child's reading ability.

by Andrea Vinley Jewell

Below are a few words of caution for parents trying to develop their child's reading ability.

Mary Leonhardt, author of Keeping Children Reading and Parents Who Love Reading, Children Who Don't, writes:

Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, writes:

Unexpected Discoveries

Reading is a multi-faceted experience that can bond generations together and expand a child's world in life-changing ways.


I always loved reading to my children. Even when they were tiny board books, those annoying squeaky-soft books were a daily part of life. I cherished the time we could cuddle up and read, and I valued the moments I could take a rest from my mock-speed day. As my children grew, so did their library. We'd scarf up books at garage sales and libraries and request them as gifts.

When my children were in first and third grade, we decided to read the "Little House on the Prairie" series together. I had no idea how important that would be for our family and our future.

"Yuck! Play ball with a pig's bladder? That's disgusting!" my son, Sean, said as we read Little House on the Prairie.

"I did as a little girl," Nana said hesitantly. She was visiting with us and had joined our reading time.

Seeing the golden moment, I ran to get my tape recorder. Nana then told her grandchildren about growing up on a farm during and after the Great Depression and about using a pig's bladder for a ball. The children were enthralled.

Every night for the next 10 days, they'd cuddle up with my mom to tape the stories she told. Those stories not only bonded my children to their grandmother but to history itself. She connected us to history, to family and to love. She brought the war, rationing, jitterbugging and Walton-type Christmases to life. She helped us understand her, the world and her faith better.

After she left, we continued reading the series. For the children's school History/Science Fair, we built a Little House on the Prairie dollhouse from the descriptions in the book. What a great way to learn about the pioneer days.

What was even more valuable than the enjoyment of that series was that my children learned to value and love reading, and they developed an interest in history.

Over the years they read more of the classics and talked to their grandparents about them. It was a special bond they shared.

Reading is a multi-faceted experience that can bond generations together. It can also expand a child's world in life-changing ways.

Q & A: Reading to Your Kids

Parents ask the experts about reading to and with their children.

by Andrea Vinley Jewell

Parents ask the experts about reading to and with their children.

Q: How old must a child be before you start reading to him?

A: Jim Trelease: When did you start talking to your child? Usually, you start right after birth. When you were holding that newborn in your arms, whispering, "We love you," you were speaking multisyllable words and complex sentences in a foreign language to a child who didn't understand one word you were saying! And you never thought twice about doing it. But most people can't imagine reading to that same child. And that's sad. If a child is old enough to talk to, she's old enough to be read to. It's the same language.

Q: I have a 12-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old. What one book can I read that will hold all their attentions?

A: Jim Trelease: Do they all wear the same size clothes, ride the same size bike or have the same size friends? Here's a little rule of thumb: If you can't squeeze your children into the same size underwear, don't try to squeeze them into the same size book. In doing that, you end up watering down the reading material to accommodate the lowest common denominator. The solution is to read to them individually if there is more than three years difference in their ages. It takes longer, but then parenting isn't supposed to be a time-saving experience.

Q: How can I raise my child's reading level?

A: Mary Leonhardt: Any kind of reading, as long as children find it enthralling, will quickly and significantly raise reading levels. Good readers are good readers because they love reading. Poor readers — except for the very few who are truly learning disabled — are poor readers because they dislike reading and never do it unless forced. Find reading material, whether a comic book or magazine, about an interest or passion that your child has. Allow your children to read books that make them feel like wonderful readers. They'll move on after a while. Books that are too easy will become boring to them. But let that happen naturally.

Classic Books for Kids

Consider these time-tested classics.

by Andrea Vinley Jewell

Below are some classic books you and your family may enjoy.* Be sure to review any book before giving it to your child to read.

*Note: Referrals to books not produced by Focus on the Family are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the publications' content.

Magazines for Kids

These children's magazines contain a variety of wholesome, entertaining stories and activities.

by Andrea Vinley Jewell

Here are some good children's magazines to consider:*

Time for a Good Read

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